Fighting Inflammation: Quick Tips From a Dietician

Fighting Inflammation: Quick Tips From a Dietician

No doubt over the decades nutrition information has been confusing and conflicting. Butter or margarine, sugar or artificial sweeteners, cow’s milk or soy milk? Recommendations have certainly wavered. As a dietitian, I have seen standards of practice evolve over the years as our science has improved and products have stood the test of time to determine safety.

The big buzz word now is “inflammation”. We now know that uncontrolled inflammation is the root cause of most all chronic disease, and a bigger culprit of heart disease than dietary cholesterol. We experience inflammation from a host of different causes, from environmental pollutants, to sun exposure, our aging process, and of course our diet.

While we can’t always control the environment we are surrounded by day to day, and we certainly can’t stop the years from going by, we can control what we put in our bodies that can either nourish us and fight inflammation, or cause inflammation to spread like wildfire.

Making changes doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, a few substitutions in your kitchen of commonly used ingredients can make a big difference! Let’s just focus on two simple changes: sugar and oils.

Refined sugar

Aside from a fleeting moment of sweet yumminess from that frappuccino or piece of cheesecake (my favorite dessert!), refined sugar has no benefits. Granulated sugar, pure cane sugar, cane syrup, brown sugar…they are all highly processed sugars that increase blood sugar, spike our insulin levels and cause major inflammation.

When you are shopping, you want to avoid processed foods that contain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar or cane syrup. But what about when you are cooking and baking in your own kitchen? Here are some alternatives to refined sugar:

Coconut sugar

While this is still high in fructose and glucose, it is slightly lower on the glycemic index than refined sugar, and it is not chemically processed.

It does contain nutrients that refined cane sugar does not have, such as potassium, calcium, zinc, iron and copper, and small amounts of phytonutrients like polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants. In the interest of being mindful of our environment, it is a much more sustainable crop than cane sugar.


Natural honey provides several benefits when it comes to sweetening your foods or beverages. It provides a nice source of Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, and it also provides a small amount of fluoride which is beneficial to your dental health. But, honey is still higher in fructose than glucose (this is only able to be processed by the liver, leading to fatty liver, elevated triglycerides and more inflammation than glucose. Note – this is not the same as fructose from fresh fruits that our bodies need). Still, a better choice than refined sugar and a great substitution.

Pure Maple Syrup

This is my number one recommendation, and here’s why: pure maple syrup is a wonderful source of antioxidants and minerals, including iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and potassium. It is mostly glucose, easily processed by the body without the fructose load on the liver, and per serving it is significantly less overall sugar than honey. It can easily be substituted into recipes.

Refined Oils

Shelves and shelves of cooking oils, the choices are endless! But I think after this discussion we can narrow it down to only a few that are the healthiest choices for all your needs. Many of our oils come from our biggest genetically modified crops – soy, cotton, rapeseed/canola, corn.

Cottonseed oil in particular is known to have higher levels of pesticide residues because it is regulated as a textile crop, not food. In addition, the refining process of all these oils involves chemicals such as hexane, which are often still remaining in the final product. The oils are also often bleached and deodorized as they can become foul smelling when they become exposed to oxygen or high heats.

High in omega 6 fatty acids, the oils are highly inflammatory to our systems when not balanced out with omega 3s.

Ideally in our diets we should have a balance of 1:1 between these fatty acids, but unfortunately our western diet is unbalanced as much as a ratio of 15:1 or more. Avoiding oils such as soy, cottonseed, canola, corn, sunflower is a great start!

Instead, fill your kitchen with these oils:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

High in Vitamin E, great for cooking and for salad dressings. Look for a cold pressed oil from fresh olives and be aware of any sneaky ingredients mixed in – olive oil is catching some negative attention for brands that are mixing unlabeled GMO oils like soybean oils in with the olive oil. Avocado and Almond Oil are both great for high heat cooking.

Coconut Oil (unrefined)

Quickly becoming a preferred oil by many for good reasons! Coconut oil is relatively versatile, it tastes great, and its fat composition (medium chain triglycerides) actually help reduce cholesterol. It’s a great oil to experiment with when cooking and baking, because the mild flavor can end up creating a great twist in whatever you are making!

Whatever oil you choose to use, look for unrefined (or virgin), expeller presser or cold expeller pressed, and organic. Organic oil production is prohibited from using GMOs and hexane extraction.

Next time you are at the grocery store, take a few extra minutes to browse the oil and sugar shelves. Experiment with new brands and new, healthier ingredients for a healthier kitchen!

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